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Property

Hong Kong Disney urged to join land giveaway for housing

Three property groups pledge 52 soccer fields' worth of space

A quiet day on Main Street: Monthslong protests have put Hong Kong Disneyland's earnings under pressure.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- A call by the city's housing secretary for Hong Kong Disneyland to free up land marked for expansion shows how pressure is rising on developers to cooperate in easing a chronic lack of residential space.

Frank Chan Fan told lawmakers on Monday that the government hopes the theme park operator "can consider its social responsibility and allow an exemption, so that the site can be used for transitional housing, until it has some long-term uses," according to local media.

The land in question is subject to a contract between the government and Hong Kong Disneyland.

In recent months, three major property developers in Hong Kong have pledged to donate swathes of idle land to build apartments amid criticism in Chinese state media, which tied the housing crisis to the city's monthslong protests.

Henderson Land Development, New World Development and Wheelock Properties have offered roughly 4 million sq. feet (370,000 sq. meters) of land, equivalent to 52 soccer fields.

The housing complexes to be built will accommodate more than 70,000 people. Each developer is giving the land to charitable groups, or freeing up property for terms that are practically free, such as leases for 1 Hong Kong dollar ($0.12).

With 7.4 million people packed into a city about half the size of Tokyo, Hong Kong has one of the world's highest population densities and regularly tops global rankings in residential property values. Many residents live in apartments smaller than parking spaces.

Developers meanwhile have held on to large stretches of underutilized property in a section of Hong Kong called New Territories, near the mainland border. The owners have been reluctant to develop housing within those sites, leading critics to suspect deliberate price pumping.

In September, China's state news agency Xinhua published an article that highlighted Hong Kong's housing problem, and tied it to the city's anti-government protests.

"Experts observe that the [Hong Kong] government often encounters interference and obstructions from the opposition and vested interest holders" regarding the government's housing policies, Xinhua reported, taking aim at the developers.

In 2018, Hong Kong officials approved a massive artificial island project to help ease the housing crisis, a move derided as a waste of taxpayers' money. After the protests erupted in June, the government looks to develop idle lands already on hand.

Real estate mogul Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong's richest man, said in October that he will donate HK$1 billion to support small and midsized businesses through his self-named foundation. The initiative has identified 28,000 businesses as of December, including restaurants, retailers and travel agents.

The contribution amounts to less than 1% of Li's wealth, which exceeds $29 billion, according to Forbes. But it is well received by the small business community due to the lack of paperwork required compared with government stimulus programs.

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